"These past several weeks have been remarkably busier for us, and the abuse and trauma more significant," said Sandy Davis, director of the YWCA's Support Network for Battered Women, which serves northern Santa Clara County. "Stress of any kind can heighten an abusive relationship and when we compound the poor economy to the general stress that holidays bring, yes, there will be more violence."
The Network's 24-bed shelter has been at full capacity this winter, as it often is. But with funding for nonprofits at an all time low, there is no money for expansion.
The Network is one of seven local nonprofits that receive help from the Voice's annual Holiday Fund drive. This year's Holiday Fund comes as Davis is particularly worried about funding, especially from the state, which provides about 20 percent of the network's income. Governor Jerry Brown has already warned about deep budget cuts this year.
One in four women experience domestic violence. It is for this surprisingly large population that the Network maintains a crisis hotline, provides counseling services and provides shelter in a secret location for victims of the most serious abuse.
The shelter is a four-plex of two-bedroom apartments with a very "home-like feel," Davis said. A woman might stay there for one to two months before she is able to get back on her feet. It may be as simple as saving money for a deposit on an apartment, or as complex as finding a source of income and childcare for the first time.
Recently a woman gave birth while staying at the shelter, and the woman's auxiliary of a local church donated clothes, a crib and a car seat.
Only one abuser has ever found the shelter, Davis said. A victim revealed the address to her abuser because she wanted to talk to him. But the building is secure and he was never let inside, Davis said. In most cases, from the abuser's perspective it appears that the victim has vanished, although the abuser may hear that the victim is in a "safe place" through an attorney or the district attorney's office, Davis said.
The shelter houses not only women, but children, too. A school nearby is set up to accommodate the children immediately. Returning to their own school could allow an abuser to locate the child and the victim, Davis said.
Some of the women make life-long friendships in the support groups the Network organizes on a drop-in basis. Victims are allowed to attend the groups as long as they like. Children have their own support groups, which look more like play time as counselors try to reach the kids in a less direct way, Davis said.
Davis said her heartstrings are tugged especially by the children, who are either victims of the abuse or witnesses of it. The boys may go on to be abusers and the girls may go on to think it's all right for a man to abuse them.
The Network got its start when a woman named Geri Rivard opened up a one-room office in a church for half a day every week. But she was soon swamped with hundreds of calls from women seeking help.
The shelter now receives 1,100 crisis calls a year from victims, and counsels 800 women and 250 children every year. Last year, the shelter housed of them. There are over 350 volunteers, 10 trainees and 24 employees, three of whom are licensed therapists.
As of last April, the Network is now under the umbrella of the YWCA of Silicon Valley, which has helped save the network money on administrative costs. While funding is uncertain, it continues to operate within budget.
For more information, visit supportnetwork.org. The Network's crisis hotline is 1-800-572-2782.